Fastpacking and Camping in Winter

December in the Himalayas at Everest Trail Race

Embrace winter, mercury dropping in the thermometer is no excuse to put outdoor adventure on hold. On the contrary, the new season brings a whole new set of adventures that could not be entertained during the months of Spring and Summer – read an article HERE on ‘Embracing Winter for New Adventures.’

Fastpacking is often looked upon as a good weather activity and not something that can be entertained or planned for the winter months. I disagree! Winter brings multiple possibilities and although fast packing in spring/ summer has many carry overs to autumn/ winter, some distinct differences are notable and important. 

I have produced two articles on Fastpacking, one HERE and the other HERE looks at going lighter. Quite simply, fast packing is about finding the perfect and optimal balance between equipment and weight. To move fast, one’s pack needs to be as light as possible. In spring and summer, that job is easier as one requires less equipment. For example, sleeping bag will be lighter, tent will be lighter, clothing will be reduced and so on. Winter brings added challenges of balance and if you get it wrong, not only can it mean a miserable time, it can also be extremely dangerous.

WHAT TYPE OF TRIP?

I like to think of winter fast packing adventures primarily falling in two categories:

1. Self-sufficient with tent.

2. Self-sufficient and staying lodges, cabins, tea houses or even hotels.

To clarify, when I say ‘self-sufficient’ I mean carrying everything one needs for the adventure you are undertaking. If one is travelling with a tent, you will almost certainly be carrying all your food too. However, if staying in lodges, cabins, tea houses or hotels, then access to food will be possible and therefore the need to carry such items will be reduced.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to look at point 1 as this requires more planning, more equipment and a great deal more thought. For point 2, the equipment list would be as point 1 with the ability to remove items.

A fastpacking trip can be as simple as two days with one overnight stop or it can be a lengthy trip of multiple days or even weeks. As an example, in recent years I have taken myself to Nepal in December and fastpacked for ten days plus using tea houses for accommodation. Read an article on the ‘Three Passes Trek 2018: Ultimate Trek in the Everest Region’ HERE.

Any length of trip is valid and if new to winter adventures, it makes sense that maybe a first trip involves just one overnight so that you can fine tune what does and does not work for you.

EQUIPMENT

Weather in Autumn can still be warm but one needs to be prepared.

Fastpacking in winter is the same as summer, but the need for more substantial equipment increases. Key is multi-purpose so that as mentioned previously, balancing minimal weight with equipment is optimal.

Planning is also essential so that one understands what equipment is needed and required. It goes without saying that winter conditions can bring anything, so, being prepared is an absolute no1 priority. 

Ask questions:

Will I have rain?

Will I have snow?

Will I have ice?

Am I going to high altitude?

Is the terrain technical?

Will I be climbing?

Questions as above are a starting point when deciding what to take. A prime example being that an ice axe, crampons and maybe even a harness will be required on a fastpack trip – If you don’t have them, that could be a BIG problem!

Do the research, understand the trip, understand the distance you will be covering and understand the amount of days the journey will take.

Once you have answers to the above, you can plan the equipment.

Top Tip: While solo adventuring is exciting and exhilarating, winter adventures with another person make a trip safer and, in my opinion, more enjoyable. It also means you can share the additional tent weight and supplies weight.

TENT

©Hilleberg – Nallo 3 Tent

A winter tent will be heavier and more durable as the impact of the weather is greater and the need for protection is increased. The first question, is size? Many of us will not have the option or luxury to have several tent options that allow us to choose a solo, two or three-person tent. So, if purchasing for the first time, the best option would almost certainly go for a 2-person tent.

The tent needs to be 4-season unless you know in advance that your winter adventure will not have weather extremes. If the latter is the case, you may well get away with your 3-season tent.

Heavier fabrics, more substantial poles and less mesh make 4-season tent shopping a challenge. Budget is also a key consideration. A tunnel tent is optimal and if pitched correctly, it will withstand strong winds and harsh weather. Use a well-insulated, all-season tent designed to withstand strong winds and the weight of snow, as well as a full nylon inner to prevent as much heat loss as possible.

My favourite tent is the Hilleberg NALLO which comes in several sizes, 2,3 and 4 person and the ‘GT’ versions have greater storage which is not a consideration for me but could be a consideration if bike packing? The NALLO 3 is 2.6kg and one of the lightest all-season tents on the market.

A cold winter morning.

2.6kg may sound heavy, especially when fastpacking but if you divide that weight between 2 (1300g each) or 3 (866g) it compares with lightweight solo tents such as the NEMO Hornet which would not stand winter conditions.

Ultimately invest in a tent as it will serve you well and last a great deal of time. Cutting costs early on will only come back later and bite you later.

Using a Tarp or Bivvy bag is not a consideration for me in winter unless in an emergency.

PACK

A multi-day fast packing trip to the Atlas Mountains, Morocco.

Packs are very personal and the correct one for you comes down to too many variables. I have said previously that I feel the ideal fastpack size to be 20-25 ltr. However, in winter, I usually go to 30 ltr and in Nepal I have gone to 40 ltr.

Montane Trailblazer 30 is a personal favourite as it fits like clothing with a vest-like fit and it has a waist belt.

Think about simple and effective storage space, minimum fuss, good fit and comfort.

Options:

Ultimate Direction Fastpack

Six Moon Designs

Inov-8

OMM

Terra Nova

SLEEPING BAG

RAB Mythic Ultra 360

After the tent, the sleeping bag is going to be the next largest and heaviest item. However, think cleverly about sleeping bag and also consider the key phrase, multi-purpose.

Because you may experience -15 at night during a fastpack, this does not mean you require a -15 sleeping bag…. Personal favourite is the RAB Mythic Ultra 360.

Smart lightweight campers have been using their clothes to boost the warmth of their sleeping bags for years and climbers do it when they have to. Yet most of us are still carrying bags much bulkier and heavier than we need.” – Peter Hutchinson Designs

Layering in a sleeping bag (just like in clothing) is key to regulating temperature and a perfect way to carry a lighter sleeping bag without compromising on warmth and comfort. Read an in-depth article HERE on ‘Choosing a Sleeping Bag for an Adventure.’

Key points to consider:

  1. Am I using the sleeping bag in a dry or wet climate?
  2. Is the weight of the bag really important? Normally the answer here is, if you are carrying it, yes, the weight is important.
  3. Do I need the sleeping bag to pack as small as possible?
  4. Do I need the bag to work in one or more situations? Another way of looking at this is, do I need to compromise on points 1-3 to get value for money.

Ask some personal questions:

  1. Do I sleep warm?
  2. Do I like to be warm and if not warm, am I miserable?
  3. Am I prepared to be a little cold to be as light as possible?
  4. Do I need a full-length zip, half-zip or am I happy to have no zip?

Consider other factors:

  1. If you are tall, wide, have big shoulders etcetera, etcetera then some sleeping bags will just not work for you as they will be too small.
  2. If you are small/ petite an off-the-shelf sleeping bag actually could be too big for you, this is not a huge problem, but if you wanted the bag to be as small and light as possible, you could go custom made.

Top Tip: Down is the lightest and packs the smallest. However, down cannot get wet. If it does it loses warmth and effectiveness. Some brands now offer ‘treated’ down that can withstand weather variables, so, consider this. If you are going to be in a wet/ damp climate, a synthetic filling may well be the best choice. Do not put your head inside the sleeping bag – make sure you breath out and not inside the bag as the moisture is not good.

SLEEPING MAT

Typical fastpack kit set up.

If you are in a tent during the winter, you NEED insulation between you and the ground. Do not compromise here. No matt and you are guaranteed a cold, sleepless and restless night. There are many variables to look at and while weight is crucial, so is warmth. The weight of one’s body presses a sleeping bag flat when sleeping and therefore the warming properties are reduced. Cold comes up from the ground, which can be very dangerous.

It is possible to purchase insulated matts and they are obviously heavier. Ask questions about your personal needs and self-asses. Do you sleep warm? 

Look at the ‘R’ number of a sleeping mat. The higher the R number, the more insulation it gives.

If you are going to be pitching a tent on snow or ice, the R needs to be 3 at a minimum and ideally 4 or higher.

Sea to Summit produce an Ultralight mat with an R of 3.1 at 480g in regular length. By contrast, the Comfort Plus XT with an R of 4.7 is over 1000g

COOKING SYSTEM

While your spring/ summer gas canister system will work in winter, many choose to use a liquid fuel system as the pressure in the bottle can be maintained by pumping. MSR do a product called WhisperLite that can use gas or liquid fuel.

I personally use a Jetboil Flash or my MSR WindBurner which both boil water very quickly and work exceptionally well in windy weather.

I simply need to boil water and/ or melt snow.

FOOD

Firepoot food tastes great and is well balanced.

Food is a significant consideration for winter and personally the need for warm and nutritious food increases. Dehydrated food is a staple both for breakfast and dinner and while many brands are available, Firepot Food is my favourite. A *typical meal is around 125g in weight and offers upwards of 500 calories. Baked Apple Porridge is superb in the morning and Chili Con Carne has spice and great taste. Options are available for larger packs. Taking Chili Con Carne as an example: the 135g pack has 600 cals and they have a 200g pack with 890 cals.

I take coffee for the morning and sachets of hot chocolate for the evening.

CLOTHING

Hat and buff great for keeping the warmth in.

There is no one answer to clothing and many questions to ask. To start, I will assume for the purpose of this article that you are a runner who will be moving fast (er) than a hiker.

Key considerations re weather:

Will it be dry and cold? 

Will it be wet and cold? 

Will it be wet/ dry and cold?

Understanding the answer to the above helps clarify clothing choice. For example, Nepal in December will be cold and dry (usually) therefore the need for wet weather clothing can be reduced. It also means that down will be the main insulating layer. By contrast, if exploring the mountains of northern Norway, you will potentially experience all weather variables and therefore the need for synthetic insulating layers may be preferable to down and the requirement for waterproof jacket and trousers almost essential.

I see apparel in three scenarios:

What I wear in the day.

What I wear when I have finished for the day.

What I wear to sleep.

Remember the key word, multi-purpose.

Layering is essential to regulate temperature and at all costs, you need to reduce sweating, especially in subzero conditions as the sweat can freeze against the skin. Accept that you will need to move slower and that you will need to be diligent in stop/ starting to add and remove layers. It’s easy to feel too warm or a little cold and not stop because it impacts on your rhythm, this can be a really bad decision. Make sure you add/ remove as required.

DAY

Long sleeve Merino, run tights and gloves is a great starting point for warmth.

Head: Hat.

Eyes: Wear glasses, especially in snow.

Neck: Buff

Body: Long-sleeve merino base layer top.

Hands: Merino base layer gloves.

Legs: Winter run tights.

Feet: Merino socks.

Shoes – These will be specific to the task and weather conditions. Obviously, I will not be carrying options (unless climbing,) so, my shoe choice will be based on the most demanding conditions. As a starting point, my standard trail running shoes with aggressive outsole would be ideal for mud and soft snow. If I was going to encounter ice I would either take micro-crampons to use on my trail shoe or use a specific shoe such as the Arctic Talon by inov-8. Extreme cold, challenging conditions and many variables and I would use a boot but a lighter option that is designed with a runner in mind, Roclite (370 or 400) by inov-8 works exceptionally well.

inov-8 Roclite boots with crampons.

WARMTH and WATERPROOF

Add and remove layers based on the weather and conditions.

Using the above as a starting point, the need to add layers will depend on the conditions you are experiencing.

Head: You lose a great deal of heat through your head, so simply adding and removing a hat is a simple way to regulate temperature. There are many options here that typically fall in 3 categories:

Peaked hat

Beanie

Head band

I often like the head band option as it keeps my ears warm but still allows some heat to escape through the top of my head. If it is really cold, I will use a beanie.

Neck: In colder temperatures I like to have a Buff/ wrap around my neck. This is especially useful as the temperature drops as you can pull the item over your mouth and nose. They can also be used as a hat if required.

Hat, glasses, buff and layers provide great protection.

Body: A simple and extremely light windproof is great for adding and removing to regulate temperature. In colder conditions, the need to add insulation will be required and as mentioned, this can be down or synthetic. Ultimately, this layer, especially if still moving fast does not need to be too bulky or too warm. A Rab Kaon is a current favourite which has the best of both worlds by using treated down in a small and lightweight package. Rain, wet conditions and strong wind can make any trip miserable, so, a good and lightweight jacket with taped seams is essential. The Stormshell by inov-8 is perfect. Top Tip: Consider the size of the waterproof jacket, sometimes going one size bigger is better to allow for insulation underneath.

Hands: I struggle with my hands and particularly with my fingers, so, I do not compromise. I wear Merino wool base layers and then Mitts over the top by inov-8. If I need the use of my fingers, I will use a Gore-Tex glove by Rab. Importantly I carry a spare set of Merino base layer gloves and even a pair of more substantial mitts if conditions dictate. My hands are my weakness!

Legs: Winter run tights such as the inov-8 Winter Tight are ideal in all conditions and they are my ‘go-to’ for all runs. In rain I will use just the run tight. However, if the temperature drops to zero or below and the wind gets up, the need to add another layer becomes important and I use the Trailpant by inov-8 over the top.

Feet: Merino socks are essential as they work extremely well when wet. I often use an Injini 5-finger Merino as a base layer and then a Smartwool Merino sock over the top. On occasion I have used Neoprene socks as an extra warm layer.

Shoes: As discussed above but if going to extreme conditions and climbing I use La Sportiva boots, the G5 is perfect for snow conditions with crampons. Also consider that maybe you need snowshoes?

AT THE END OF THE DAY

The end of a long day at Tengboche, Nepal.

You have finished fast packing for the day, you are warm, and the priority is pitching the tent. Before you do that, make sure you:

Add an insulated layer.

Add a windproof.

Wear a hat.

Put on gloves.

Once you have done the above, pitch the tent and get inside.

Priority is to remove layer and importantly remove base layers if they are damp or wet. Putting on a dry base layer is essential to keep warm

Replace run tights with Merino base layer tights.

Remove socks and put on dry socks.

Now add the insulated layers such as jacket, hat and gloves. If extremely cold, get inside your sleeping bag and retain the heat you already have.

Depending on the conditions and the environment, you may very well have additional warm layers that were not mentioned above. Three essentials for me in extreme conditions are:

Warmer down jacket

Down trousers.

Down/ Primaloft socks.

The above 3 items can pack small and the warmth to weight ratio can make a huge difference. Trekking in Nepal or a similar place in winter and they are essential items.

Hut/tent slippers are a great addition for warm feet and allow you to get out of run shoes/ boots. They are light and can roll up. They fall in the luxury category but if you have space and don´t mind a little extra weight, they can be very worthwhile.

Be specific with the choice of insulated layer. There are many options available that balance weight/ warmth delicately.

SLEEPING

First and foremost, make sure you are warm when going to sleep. If not, you will waste energy trying to get warm. If conditions allow, don’t hesitate to do some press ups, jog on the spot, do star jumps and so on before getting in a sleeping bag.

As a start point, I will wear:

Beanie.

Buff.

Long sleeve Merino base layer top.

Long leg Merino tights.

Merino socks.

Merino liner gloves.

The above provides me with a starting point. Of course, if conditions allow, I can remove some of the items above to regulate temperature.

If it is cold, I will wear a down jacket.

Extremely cold and I will wear my down pants and socks.

It all goes back to layering, multi-purpose and why I initially said that a lighter and less warm sleeping bag can often work providing you have the options to add warmth.

A good night’s sleep is essential.

Top Tips: Put clothes inside the sleeping bag to stop them getting cold and damp. Put all batteries/ phone etc inside the sleeping bag, they will last longer. Need a heat boost? Boil some water, add it to a very secure water bottle and put inside sleeping bag – the ultimate hot-water bottle! Have a bottle for taking a pee in or a FUD if you are a woman. Getting out of a tent in the middle of the night in wind, rain and/ or snow is not a good idea.

TOP TIPS FOR THE WINTER

Climbing Slogen in Norway. We pitched our tent in the valley and travelled light to the summit.

Prepare and plan a trip meticulously understanding the weather conditions you will encounter.

Have the correct equipment for the trip.

Make sure you have a phone, the ability to charge and re-charge it and have a tracking device such as a Garmin InReach.

Tent must be durable and correct for the conditions.

A tent can be made warmer by reducing ambient space – use packs etc around you and don’t be afraid to ‘spoon’ a tent-mate.

Prepare ground for camping, particularly important in snow/ ice conditions. If possible, clear snow to reveal the ground underneath.

Use a mat as insulation between you and the ground.

Layer and regulate temperature.

Add hot water to a drink bottle for the perfect sleeping bag warmer.

Put clothes inside sleeping bag.

Have ear plugs and blindfold.

Eat and drink warm food and snacking in the middle of the night is a great idea.

Have a pee bottle or suitable device if a woman. Holding a pee in is not a good idea as this will waste energy and heat,

Insulated bottles are essential to stop water freezing. Turn bottle upside down.

Poles are great in the mountains.

Use poles when conditions dictate.

Use dry bags to keep all clothing dry.

Have plastic zip-lock bags for emergencies.

Make sure you have a first aid kit.

Zip ties, Gorilla tape and a small tube of super glue can go a long way for ‘on-the-go’ repairs.

Carry a multi-tool knife.

Use a long-handled spoon for dehydrated meals.

Remember it gets cold at night.

Eye protection is crucial.

Take a pillow.

Decide on the correct fuel for the stove. Subzero, go with liquid fuel.

Melt snow for water.

Carry a water filtration system.

Have a method for removing toilet paper and waste.

Have wet wipes or similar.

Sunscreen in snow is essential along with lip balm.

If possible and allowed, make a fire.

Camp fires are great as long as it is safe and friendly to the location/ environment.

If possible and allowed, make a fire.

Take insoles out of shoes and put inside sleeping (providing they are not wet)

A second stove option and backup may be worthwhile. If using gas canister, the MSR pocket rocket burner is super small and light.

Ventilate your tent.

Keep hydrated.

Protect extremities. Hands and feet. Consider hut/tent slippers.

Headtorch and spare batteries.

Headtorch is an essential item.

LUXURIES

Depending on the length of the trip, luxuries are best kept at a minimum. However, on a lengthy trip in Nepal I did take an iPad mini as it allowed me to write, provided the option for movies and music and I could re-charge in tea houses. If I was self-sufficient camping, I would leave this at home.

Take a phone. Maybe use an old-style phone and not the latest smartphone. The latter is power hungry.

iPods and fancy earphones are great, but you cannot beat a pair of simple wired earphones as they do not need re-charging.

Take a notebook and pen (if not taking an iPad mini).

A battery for re-charging.

Remember, you need to carry any luxury so be ruthless.

AVOID

Hypothermia 

Frostbite

Embrace winter and the challenges it brings.

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Embrace Winter for New Adventures

The passing of September and the arrival of October can signify dread and a sense of despair in many as daylight disappears and the weather changes. However, one of the secrets of ‘surviving’ this new season is to embrace it. Don’t look at the negatives, on the contrary, the perceived negatives are actually positives. Seasons exist for a reason.

Lethargy, low mood and the perceived feel to hibernate are all characteristics we feel during the winter months and first off, don’t fight it, accept that winter brings an opportunity to recharge, relax, read a book, catch up on some movies, light a fire, get a blanket and yes curl up on the sofa and relax. There is no harm or guilt in this.

SAD (Seasonal Effective Disorder) is something we all can feel and yes, some feel it considerably more than others, particularly if Serotonin is reduced and this is often treated with drugs. But light, or the lack of it, is a great contributor. Top tip – Look at changing the bulbs on your lights to ‘daylight’ balanced and when required, adjust brightness throughout the day to help simulate the natural passing of light. It’s a great and easy way to help simulate the variable light intensity changes in one normal day.

Mindset is a key factor to a successful winter and once you get the mind tuned, you will soon appreciate and embrace the possibilities that the winter season can bring, especially as a runner or someone who enjoys outdoor life and activity.

As in all things, we are individuals and as such, we all treat circumstances and changes in different ways. I personally see winter as an opportunity to do things I could not do in spring and summer. I see the challenges that winter will bring as a test, both physical and mental and I look upon it as an opportunity to learn and adjust. Resources and circumstances do go a long way in making my ability to adapt successful, so, to start off, look at these aspects and put yourself in a good place before the cold, wet and dark hits.

In a discussion with a friend over a glass of wine, I was surprised to hear our discussion begin to deteriorate…

“I just hate this time of year. The daylight is leaving us earlier and earlier each day, the light is already arriving so late in the morning and I can feel the damp starting to creep into my body. It will be only a matter of weeks before I am in perpetual cold and dark, I cannot wait for spring!”

It is easy to see from the above quote that before winter has begun, my friend is defeated. I smiled and laughed with him and turned the conversation around.

“Yes, the darkness is coming as is the cold, the wet, the snow and the ice,” I replied. “But what a remarkable opportunity this brings. Just think about it. Cozy nights at home with candles and a movie. Adventures in the snow. Running with a head torch. Learning a new skill. Reading and yes, I could go on and on. Winter for me is just a wonderful opportunity and I cannot wait for it to begin.”

I already felt like a winner as mentally I was prepared and excited for the opportunity, whereas my friend, was already starting the hibernation process.

EMBRACE THE WINTER

I strongly believe that embracing winter and making the most of the season starts with mindset. With a good mindset as outlined above, you will already be in a great place to start.

Marino Giacometti, founder of skyrunning also made the summit on race day – ‘for fun!’

As runner’s and outdoor enthusiasts, we are all at different abilities and yes, we all have different reasons why we do what we do. A great example being an elite runner may well look at winter as an opportunity to address weaknesses and maybe spend more time in a gym working on strength and core.

Monte Rosa Skymarathon

A running enthusiast may well just want to tick over, keep fit and maintain a healthy weight during winter months. And then there is the outdoor enthusiast who may well accept that running is something that will go on a back burner for the coming months and accept that walking, indoor cycling, skiing, gym work and so on is the way forward. Whatever group you fall in, take a couple of hours with a pen and paper and self asses how the last year has been and what you want to achieve the following year, this will help provide some specific goals over the winter to keep focused. This planning and assessment can be as simple as complicated as you wish.

As an example, mine is to embrace the season and the weather and to seize every opportunity. I will hone my head torch running. I will practice my ice and snow running. I will experience my first snow shoeing and I look forward to multi-day snow adventures that will carry me from one point to another in a self-sufficient way. But I also want to write more. I want to read a couple of books that I have never found the time for and I also want to embrace the downtime to rest and recover. My connection with nature and breaking from the digital world is integral to a healthy existence and that cannot stop just because the season has changed.

CLOTHING

We have all heard it before, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” It’s true I am afraid. Clothing is one of the key essentials that makes any winter adventure not only bearable and enjoyable. As outdoor people, we have never been as lucky. Technology in apparel has now progressed to a level that we can be warm and dry in super-light products. The downside of course is cost and yes, gearing up for winter can be expensive.

Layering is key with apparel, starting with warm layers against the skin, insulating layers on top and then waterproof and windproof layers as the final touch that will protect from the elements. Merino is great as a base layer and I have a long sleeve top and legs as a starting point. Now of course, I may or may not use them as this depends on the outdoor exercise I am doing. As an example, I would wear the top if running but not the legs. A mid-layer is more often than not either Primaloft, down or synthetic. Each has its place but if you could only choose one, Primaloft (or similar) would be the most versatile due to its ability to retain warmth when wet and still be lightweight. The outer layer should be waterproof and windproof with taped seams and again, it is essential to have jacket and trousers.

The above looks at the core, but if you are like me, the extremities are my most vulnerable in winter and after getting frost nip both in my toes and fingers on the summit of Monte Rosa several years ago, I know need to ensure that I have multiple options for keeping my feet and hands warm. I use Merino base layer socks and gloves which are very thin. For my feet, I then add thicker Merino socks over and inn certain scenarios I have even used Gore-Tex or Neoprene over socks. For my hands, mitts always provide the most warmth and I will use them as first choice. If I need finger dexterity, I often purchase gloves several sizes too big that will allow for multiple layers to retain warmth.

A hat, buff and glasses add the finishing touches. A good hat is one of the easiest ways to retain heat inside the body. A Buff is perfect for around the neck, pulled over one’s nose and mouth to keep out cold air or you can use as a hat. Glasses are an essential to keep out the elements from my eyes and particularly essential if doing any outdoor activity in snow.

Finally, footwear is an absolutely key element to make any outdoor activity successful. There is no one-stop solution here and as a runner, your everyday trail shoes may be ideal for a bulk of your runs, however, specific conditions require specific shoes.

 

Mud/ Wet – You need an aggressive outsole that will grip and gain traction not only of sloppy wet mud but also on tree routes, rocks, gravel and a multitude of other surfaces. Top recommendations are VJ Sport and inov-8 who have been producing shoes to handle the elements for years. Personal favorites are the XTRM (here) and X-Talon(here.)

Snow/ Ice – In soft snow, the shoes that you use for mud/wet will usually work fine providing adequate grip. However, ice brings new challenges and many runner’s avoid ice at all costs. However, products exist that allow for running in such conditions. Firstly, you can micro-crampons (Snowline or Nortec as examples) that simply adapt any running shoe for ice.

I personally prefer a specific shoe, such as the VJ Sport Xante (here) which as all the attributes of my favorite trail shoes and the added grip from 20 studs. Or the Arctic Talon (here) by inov-8.

Xante

Arctic Talon

As a final note on footwear, I use boots and more substantial crampons when venturing in to more alpine and challenging terrain. Read about a trip to the Atlas Mountains here. There is no one answer here but if moving fast and light, the new inov-8 Rocltite Pro G 400 (here) is a great cross over and then I use two specific mountain boots, La Sportiva G5 (here) or the Trango Extreme (here.)

There is no one solution here and having the options to adjust clothing based on weather conditions is key.

Top Tips:

  • Carry a pack that will allow you to carry options of clothing. For example, it may well be dry when you leave but rain could come at any time, make sure you have waterproof layers with you.
  • Take off and add clothing as you exercise. When it’s cold, we often start with many layers as the first 15 min can feel uncomfortable. However, our core soon warms up. Take the layers off early to avoid sweating. Sweating is not your friend in cold climates. Be prepared to add and take off as required. One of the many reasons many people do not, is because it can disrupt the flow of exercise, however, a little time stopping pays dividends in the long term.
  • Avoid getting base or mid layers wet.
  • Carry an extra base layer.
  • Protect extremities – hands, feet, nose, ears and lips.
  • Protect skin with sun block as and when required and post-exercise use a moisturizer – winter is hard on exposed skin.
  • Start easy and build into any outdoor activity allowing for a gradual warm up.
  • Have appropriate footwear.
  • Don’t forget to drink.
  • Take snacks/ food and even a flask or consider the option to obtain hot drinks.

SAFETY

Even at the most basic level, winter brings extra challenges and risk. A simple road run has increased danger due to increased challenges not only for you as a runner, but for those who are sharing the outdoors with you – drivers! Reduced visibility, challenging conditions under foot and on the road can make that simple road run feel like an assault course, so, accept that sometimes staying indoors and or going to the gym is a better option. But we don’t want to be forced to stay indoors and why should we? If you have the correct apparel and footwear, all is good, yes? Well, nearly… Running on the road and I would most definitely consider adding the following:

  • Wear bright clothes or wear a reflective vest such as the Ultra Performance (here) which is minimal and light.
  • Add a flashing light to your arm and ankle. Example here.
  • Use a head torch.
  • Take a phone.

Moving from road to trail and the risk from traffic is reduced greatly especially if one can start immediately on trail with no road running involved. Therefore, the need to wear reflective clothing can be reduced. But the risk of falling is greatly reduced and depending on where you are, that risk can be potentially life threatening. So, adjust safety measures based on:

  • When you are running.
  • Where you are running.
  • The duration of the run.
  • If running alone.

Running for 1-hour on a local trail is very different than a multi-hour adventure. I personally have a standard kit list and I take the basic on every run. It’s an overkill for the 1-hour runs and for the longer sessions, I add to it as required and dictated to by location and conditions.

  • Spare Merino base layer.
  • Spare gloves.
  • Lightweight waterproof jacket.
  • Lightweight waterproof pants.
  • Space blanket.
  • Head torch.
  • Mobile phone.
  • First aid.
  • 500ml water.
  • Snack

The above, is my absolute basic kit that will go in a lightweight pack.

I then add equipment based on:

  • What am I doing?
  • Where am I doing it?
  • When I am doing it?
  • What are the options exist to cut short my adventure?
  • How remote will I be?
  • What are the risks involved?
  • What weather can I expect?
  • What is the worst-case scenario?

The above is a great start point. Even a local run has great risk if one is alone. Imagine running in the forest with snow on the ground, the temperature is just below zero and you are at least 30-minutes from anyone else. If you hit the deck, sprain an ankle, break a bone or whatever, you are suddenly stationary in subzero temperature. This is high risk.

Adapting to the environment, conditions and challenges is not something to be feared. It is actually fun! I go back to the mindset approach at the beginning, I see this as an opportunity, an experience to learn and a great potential to be taken out of my comfort zone.

What equipment/ advice can make a run/ adventure safer and address the list of questions above?

  • If possible, share any trip with another person. It’s more social and you have a backup.
  • Check weather conditions.
  • Tell a friend/ family member where you are going and when you will be back.
  • Have a phone and if necessary, an additional charger. It’s worth considering purchasing a phone that is not a smartphone – battery life is usually amazing.
  • Carry a tracker such as Garmin InReach or Spot.
  • Think layers and have base layer, warm layers, waterproof layers, hat, gloves and buff. On a personal note, I take spare gloves, socks and a base layer should I get wet and need the comfort and warmth of dry layers.
  • Know where you are going and have a map and compass. A GPX file is also a great option for watch/ smartphone.

Specific equipment:

  • Carry micro-crampons if you think snow/ ice is high risk.
  • Carry a bivvy bag which can be a life saver if stuck in a remote location with an inability to move.
  • Goggles are better than glasses if you are in a blizzard or strong winds.
  • Carry an ice axe if venturing anywhere with winter conditions.
  • Hand spikes for ice (more details below).
  • Snowshoes (more details below).

In many scenarios, common sense comes in to play and quite simply, a little extra weight and safety is far better than the alternative. Accept in winter that you will move slower and in a different way.

WHAT OPTIONS EXIST IN WINTER

This question can be asked in two ways, firstly, one’s head can be lowered, shoulders dropped, hands below the waste, a look of desperation on the face and, “What options exist in winter…?” The person asking this question has already decided that the answer is none!

For me, the way to ask this question is standing upright, huge smile on my face and the question, “What options exist in winter?” Already has me ready and primed to list a plethora of activities to keep even the most hardened sport enthusiast occupied for quite some time.

  • Night running.
  • Snow running.
  • Ice running.
  • Road running.
  • Climbing
  • Ice climbing.
  • Hiking
  • Fastpacking
  • Snow shoeing.
  • Learn something new.
  • Spend time with family and friends.

And the list goes on! Location, finances and available time all have a bearing on what is and what is not possible. One thing is for sure, possibilities are endless.

Night Running.

Quite simply, you need your run apparel and appropriate equipment as listed above. Importantly you need a head torch. Not all head torches are the same and an investment in the right kit early on saves money later. If you are running in the city with a great deal of ambient light and just the odd foray on trail, you may well get away with a budget torch and something around 200 lumens would work. However, if you are heading into the pitch black, running in forest, venturing into the mountains and pushing the darkness envelope, you are going to need a specific tool for the job. As an example, Norwegian lighting company Moonlight (here) provide head torches from 700 to 7000 lumens. Be specific on your needs and requirements and importantly consider autonomy, beam direction and spread, options for spare batteries and the option to keep the battery in apparel while still using the head torch, especially important in very cold environment when warmth will make the battery last longer.

Snow Running.

Layer up so that you have the flexibility to reduce heat and get warm as required. In many scenarios, particularly soft snow, a good aggressive trail shoe will work. However, consider the risk of ice so carry micro spikes. If in the mountains, knowledge and experience of snow conditions would be advisable. Be prepared with additional equipment such as poles and ice axe. Needless to say, gloves are really important.

Ice Running.

Use micro spikes for specific shoes as mentioned previously to ensure that you have grip and traction. In some places, Norway and Canada a good example, summer lakes freeze over and they become an incredible playground. Caution, safety and experience is required and if you have never run this way before, take advice from those that have. Importantly run with hand spikes (pictured below) available at all times should a disaster happen – these help you get out of a situation.

  • Measure the ice.
  • What is a safe thickness? 4 inches or more is ideal.
  • Check the ice colour – clear blue or green is good.
  • Fresh ice is best.
  • Know rescue techniques.

Climbing.

Mountains in winter offer an incredible playground and if you are new or inexperienced, the first option would be to sign up for a weekend trip with experienced professionals. The equipment requirements, techniques and safety measures vary considerably.

Ice Climbing.

No need to venture outside. In 2019 as an example, I started on a series of indoor ice climbing lessons which has now set me up for experiencing ice climbing outdoors. There is obviously a need for specific equipment: helmet, glasses, harness, ice axes, boots and crampons. However, most places, indoor or outdoor, offer the option to hire equipment as part of the lessons.

Snow Shoeing.

Fimbulvetr Hikr-X

A great winter exercise that provides an alternative to skiing or snowboarding that is an extension of running. Snowshoes basically allow you to float and not sink in the snow. But there is a difference to snow hiking and snow running, both in the shoe used and the type of snow. Run snowshoes are smaller, allow for a more natural gait and require the snow to be har packed. Whereas in soft snow, you need a much larger snowshoe to stop you sinking in the ground. Either option provides a great challenge and workout. Of course, races exist that require snow running both with and without snowshoes, so, if you are signed up or plan to race like this in the future, seize the opportunity. Abelone Lyng (here), winner of the Ice Ultra does winter snow shoeing trips in Norway.

Fast Packing.

Peak Design Field Pouch attached to a Montane Pack when Fastpacking in Nepal.

Snow, ice and cold weather doesn’t mean that multi-day adventures need to stop, on the contrary. Find a route, plan accordingly, have the correct equipment and off you go. These adventures can involve winter camping (you need a 4-season tent, appropriate matt and sleeping bag) or you can run/ hike form hut-to-hut or hotel-to-hotel. You are only limited by your imagination. Accept that you will move slower. Nepal is a magical playground for winter adventures.

Hiking.

Wrap up and include the family. Sport and our pursuit of it can often be selfish, not purposely, but we can get engrossed in challenge and adventure and often exclude the ones we love. Share the journey.

Training Camp.

Consider a training camp, maybe this could be something in warm weather to break up the winter months. I have been organizing a warm weather camp every January in Lanzarote for over 10-years, info here.

Other options:

  • Sign up for a challenge.
  • Make it social.
  • Add variety.
  • Train in the home.
  • Rest.
  • Learn something new.
  • Enroll in a class.

CONCLUSION

Ultimately, don’t letter winter get you in a spiral of mood swings, depression and locked indoors. It’s all about the mind and understanding that the variety winter brings is actually far more exciting and challenging than good weather and dry predictable trails.

Seize the conditions. Plan accordingly. Have the correct equipment. Test yourself with something new and trust me, by the time Spring comes around you may well be a little disappointed.

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Exploring Norway – HARDANGER

Norway has long been a desirable location for the mountain enthusiast. One only need to add the word ‘Norway’ to a Google search engine, and you will be rewarded with photos that make the jaw drop. 

At roughly 33% bigger than the UK and 1/3rd the size of USA, one begins to understand the scale of this Scandinavian country and its 5.3 million inhabitants.  

Just think about it, Norway is 33% bigger than the UK, but the UK has 66.6 million inhabitants…

Needless to say, outside of Oslo (681,000 pop), Bergen (271,000 pop) and other key locations such as Trondheim and Stavanger, open space and amazing landscape is available for all to explore.

In a series of articles and posts, we intend to introduce you to the magic of Norway. 

Norway is the longest country in Europe and therefore, travelling anywhere is not a quick process. It has 60.000 miles of coastline, towering mountains and dramatic fjords. Remarkably it has 2-300 peaks over 2000m+, Galdhøpiggen the highest at 2469m closely followed by Glittertind at 2464m. There are over 1000 peaks over 1650m, so, if you love mountains, Norway should be at the top of the ‘to-do’ list! 

We are starting our articles with HARDANGER which is easily accessible from Oslo or Bergen and although based in the south of Norway, it does not lack any of the drama or mind-blowing views that northern Norway offers in abundance. 

The list will grow as we progress through Norway, but expect posts on: 

  • Stavanger
  • Loen
  • Jotunheimen
  • Senja
  • Tromso
  • Lofoten Islands
  • Romsdal
  • Lyngen
  • Svalbard

And more…

HARDANGER

The fjord (Hardangerfjord) resort of Kinsarvik will be used as an initial start point for adventures in the Hardanger area, by car, it is 2hrs 30min from Bergen and 5hrs from Oslo.

Located in the west of Norway, Hardanger is a traditional district with a great deal to offer in both summer and winter. For the purposes of this initial introduction, we are looking at a 4-5-day trip in June.

June provides a wonderful opportunity as the area transitions from winter to summer, if lucky, much of winter can remain and therefore you can gain the best of both worlds. It’s worth pointing out now, that winter conditions in Norway are harsh and you need to be prepared both physically, mentally and have the correct equipment to explore safely in this area. If any of the above have a question mark, look to travel and explore in July/ August when snow conditions will have disappeared.

Areas to explore:

  • Dronningstien aka The Queens Trail
  • Trolltunga
  • Folgefonna Glacier via Buerbreen
  • The waterfall route via Husedalen Valley
  • Climb Oksen

Other opportunities:

  • Kayak in one of the longest fjords in the world.
  • Via ferrata to Trolltunga.
  • Ice climb on the Folgefonna Glacier.

PRACTICALITIES

Norway is not a cheap place and therefore one needs to look at budget when exploring any area of the country. Flights, depending on the time of year will vary in price and car hire can be expensive. However, in many scenarios, a hire car allows one freedom to explore. Train services and public transport is good. We recommend a car to explore Hardanger.

Camping is part of the outdoor life and there is nowhere better than Norway to sleep outside. Norway allows for wild camping, however, be careful, some areas, particularly Trolltunga have a camping exclusion zone. 

For the purposes of this mini trip, we used an official campsite and wild camped. Below I provide a map to show an overview of the routes and areas we explored.

Our itinerary was as follows:

  • Day 1 – Travel and overnight stop.
  • Day 2 – Dronningstien aka The Queen Trail
  • Day 3 – AM: Trolltunga – PM: Buerbreen Glacier
  • Day 4 – Waterfall route via Husedalen Valley
  • Day 5 – Oksen and travel home.

All of the above trails are not long and are all achievable in one day or less.  

  • The Queen Trail is a longer route (20km) with mixed terrain on a point-to-point route.
  • Trolltunga is exposed and with snow (time of year dependent) – a more extreme challenge, particularly if one has limited snow experience.
  • Buerbreen Glacier is a short route but has plenty of vertical and technical terrain, expect fixed ropes, some snow and water crossing.
  • Husedalen Valley, the waterfall route is a great out and back with stunning views and at times, some testing terrain. Your feet will get wet!
  • Oksen is a straight up climb (1000m+) with some exposure, challenging terrain and the potential for snow/ glacier travel depending on the time of the year. It’s an out and back route.

Day 1 base was Kinsarvik. There is an official campsite, Kinsarvik Camping AS (here) which has cabins, space for motorhomes and tents. You are recommended to book any camping, especially in high season. Alternatively, you could wild camp close to Kinsarvik.

There is a Spar supermarket opposite the fjord, and this sells everything, including camping supplies. So, this is a great opportunity to stock up on any anything that you may require.

Our day 2 and day 3 base was an official campsite in Odda, called Odda Camping (here). This area due to its proximity to Trolltunga has potentially less options for wild camping, however, some options exist in Buer close by. It was a perfect location with a fjord as a backdrop, showers (20 Nok charge) and toilet facilities. At 250 krona per night (£20) it was a great option. Odda has a developed town with plenty of facilities, so, should you need anything, it will be available in the town.

Day 4 we wild camped below Oksen. There is nothing close by, so, be prepared with food etc.

Day 5 we wild camped on the way back to Oslo.

THE ROUTES 

Dronningstien aka The Queens Trail

 The trail is a point-to-point route between Kinsarvik and Lofthus. We recommend parking opposite the ESSO Petrol Station next to the fjord, parking is free.

The actual trail starts at Røte which is 4km up a road from route 13, very close to the ESSO petrol station. However, we recommend doing this on foot. Location is shown on the map below.

For the first 4km you will have no marking and then at Røte you will see blue a ‘D’ or blue spots. This is the route to follow. 

The official route is 16km and is estimated to take 8-9 hours and is described as ‘long and demanding!’ For perspective, we did the route with an additional 4km, we had a great deal of snow and we constantly stopped for photos. Yes, we did run, and we completed in 4hrs 50min. We did not push the pace or go fast.

Recommendations are for July to September but in June you have the chance of snow, 2020 had a great deal of snow, far more than normal. For us, this was a real plus!

The early km’s are all climbing and uninspiring but there are some wonderful views. Once the ‘D’ starts, the route becomes trail and you continue to climb eventually breaking out of the tree line. The immediate views over Hardangerfjord are quite amazing and breath tanking. It did not take long to realise why this was a favourite route of HM Queen Sonja, hence, The Queen’s Trail name.

Once high, the terrain has some undulations, but it is mostly flat with all the climbing coming in the early km’s. You will see from the run route below that we had snow for all the high sections and some snow on the descent to Lofthus. We had amazing weather, blue skies and plenty of heat. You really need to be careful of snow bridges, snow holes and potential danger and hazards. Best practice is to follow existing footsteps and pay attention to markers. Some ‘D’ or blue markers will be missing because of the snow but navigation is not a problem.

At all points, the Hardangerfjord is to your right and the views are stunning. On occasion you are brought to the edge of the plateau. Take time to stop, look over and soak up how incredible the vistas are.

You will find breathtaking views of the Sørfjord, Odda, the Folgefonna Glacier, Hardanger Bridge and Eidfjord. You can also see all the way over to Kvanndal and Utne, and along the fjord to Kinsarvik. 

Water is available at several points via streams, waterfalls or melting snow. Take the opportunity to replenish bottles. 

Before the highpoint of the route, there is a little climbing with some fixed rope, it’s nothing too scary or dramatic. Just use caution.

The high point is a square pile of stones (cairn) at 1107m which has a box on so that you can sign the book inside to confirm you were there.

From here, it is mostly descending all the way back to Lofthus. You will eventually switch from blue ‘D’ or dots to red ‘T.’ The descent is steep, winding, may have snow and includes the ‘Monk Steps.’ Open expansive trail eventually becomes tree covered.

Keep descending down. You will pass through a car park for those who wish to climb up from Lofthus. Keep descending and you will pass the famous orchards of this area, you will finally join the main road next to the fjord. The route is done!

A public bus back to Kinsarvik leaves from opposite Hotel Ullensvang. Please check on timings, but our information was 1551, 1810 and 2100hrs. There is a cafe/ shop called Kompaen that serves food and drinks should you need to replenish after a hard day on the trails before heading back. Make sure you taste some local apple juice or cider.

At Kinsarvik, we had a picnic by the fjord and then headed to Odda and Odda Camping. This would allow us an early start the following day for Trolltunga.

Trolltunga

The Trolltunga (Trolls Tongue) is an iconic route in Norway. Formed about 10,000 years ago by glacier erosion it is considered one of the most spectacular cliffs in Norway. From the side, it quite literally looks like a tongue balancing 700m above the Ringedalsvatnet lake.

Considered as a ‘demanding’ route, the out-and-back can be estimated to take 8-12 hours and the typical season is June to September. Outside of this timing one must have a guide. This year, 2020, Norway has had a great deal of snow and unusually, this year’s route was pretty much 90% snow and we had strict instructions to adhere to the marked route.

Despite conditions, we found the route very runnable and the snow was perfect. We did the out-and-back in 4-hours, just under 5-hours with all the photo stops. And trust me, photo stops are compulsory!

For most, particularly with snow, this is a challenging route, mainly due to the 20km+ distance, elevation gain and at times, demanding terrain.

It is a very, very popular route and therefore is often extremely busy. However, Coronavirus greatly has impacted on tourists and visitors in 2020 and the normal busy trails were quiet.

There are three car parks with limited space, 30 cars at P3, 180 at P2 and 220 at P1, book in advance (here) and if possible stay at car park 3 (Mågelitopp.) This is closest to the trail head and costs 600 Nok (£50). Car park 2 is 500 Nok. Car parks open 0600 hrs. There are also shuttle buses from Odda/ Tyssedal to Skjeggedal and then Skjeggedal to Mågelitopp with a cost of appx 450 Nok. You may think these costs pricey, however, the money is used by the local community to cover the impact of tourism in the area.

Importantly, this is a high mountain route with highly changeable conditions. Go prepared with extra warm layers, gloves, hat, waterproofs, food and water. You can replenish water en-route from streams and waterfalls.

It is possible to start from Skjeggedal which adds 4.3km up and down to the route hiking (or you can get the shuttle) but we decided to miss this as we were adding the Glacier route to our afternoon.

Start early, if running, you have the potential to arrive at Trolltunga first and have great opportunities for photos. It has been known at busy periods to wait over an hour to get on the tongue for the ‘iconic’ photo. We actually started at 0800 and caught all the hikers ahead of us. We actually had at least 40-minutes at the tongue for photos and picnic before the next people arrived.

Skjeggedal to Mågelitopp is a steep tough climb and well-marked. From Mågelitopp, the start of the Trolltunga route is just below the car park, the route is clearly marked and relatively flat. It’s marshy to start with interspersed rocks. We had snow in these early sections, so, we were well aware that the whole route would be snow bound.

The first few km’s are arguably the toughest with 800m of vertical.

After the initial hard work, the trail rolls along, the snow conditions making our trip perfect. At all times, the views to your right are stunning with mountain vistas and the stunning Ringedalsvatnet lake.

For safety, there is a mountain outpost and two emergency huts/ shelters should you have a problem.

There is a twin waterfall, Tyssestrengene and Tyssehylen Lake to pass before arriving at Trolltunga.

The approach to Trolltunga is perfectly safe and not technical for an experienced outdoor person. However, if new to hiking and extreme environments, take a little time, move slowly and make sure of foot and hand holds. Hopefully, you may not have to wait for an opportunity to walk out on the tongue for your photo moment.

The return route is a reverse of the outward route.

Without snow, the route would be very different and in a personal opinion, less beautiful and dramatic. The snow added a real extra element to the journey, so, I would recommend attempting Trolltunga as early in June as possible.

Once back at the P3 car park we returned to our campsite for a relaxing lunch. 

Buerbreen Glacier

The reason we chose P3 for Trolltunga was to allow us to do the out-and-back route to the Buerbreen Glacier which is a short drive from Odda. 

The route is less than 6km and has appx 450m of vertical gain, but the route has a great mix of some technical terrain, fixed rope, water crossings and snow if you are lucky.

Leaving Odda, you head to Buer and continue up the road to eventually arrive at a car park. Cost is 150 Nok.

A gravel road starts the route from a farm. There is a plethora of animals around to entertain.

Entering the forest, the trail winds upwards continually with very little flat trail. Expect wet feet and the need to use ropes to ascend rock sections. If conditions are wet, take care.

Keep looking back as the views are wonderful, countered by the dominant glacier ahead. The route up does have some challenges with fixed ropes.

Eventually the trail stops with the glacier ahead. Do not be tempted to veer off the route and explore on the glacier. Needless to say, this requires a different skill level, specialist equipment and knowledge of the glacier and its conditions.

 The panorama and views at the glacier are magical.

You return via the way you came.

At under 6km, it’s a great addition to the more adventurous morning at Trolltunga. Don’t underestimate this little hike. It’s a wonderful trail and the views are magical. 

We returned to Odda Campsite for a relaxing evening.

Husedalen Valley

This route was not on our original plan; however, we were advised by locals that Husedalen Valley in June is incredible due to the melting snow and the succession of waterfalls.

Leaving Kinsarvik head up Husavegen Road and continue until you arrive at a parking area on the left. 

The route is 12km +/- out and back with 630m+. The initial km’s are gravel road, first waterfall is called Tveitafossen. 

The gravel road forks, take the right trail. You climb steeply next to a pipeline before entering forest trail.

The second waterfall is already visible, Nyastølfossen.

The views are incredible and the noise of the waterfall impressive. The trail rises steeply at times with some demanding trail. Nyastølfossen is hidden, peeping through the trees and then suddenly you get full views. Take time to stop, watch and take photos.

The third waterfall, Nykkjesøyfossen is located in a beautiful meadow. This is a popular wild camping spot with incredible views, so, keep this in mind. There is a small hut and also a public toilet here. The trail is easy to lose here but keep close to the water edge (on your right) and follow climbing and scrambling over the rocks. Eventually you will see the trail rise up.

The trail goes up again through trees and heads towards the 4th and final waterfall, Søtefossen. At times it’s easy to lose the route but in all honesty, you cannot get lost, just head for the waterfall. Eventually you can go no further as the 4th raging torrent forces you to sit down and watch its beauty.

You return via the same route.

 This route is often listed as demanding, as always, this depends on experience and fitness. Estimated to take 5-6 hours we did the route in 3h 25m with continuous photo stops.

On returning to the car, we returned to the fjord at Kinsarvik for a lunch break and then we travelled over to Oksen to wild camp.

Oksen

 The drive to Oksen takes you over the impressive Hardanger Bridge (toll payable 150 Nok) which is the longest suspension bridge in Norway at 1380m long.

Please note, once you have left Kinsarvik (or any other town for that matter) you will not pass any shops or supplies on the route to Oksen. It’s a narrow out-and-back road that passes close to the fjord and remote houses. Eventually you will drive up heading to ‘Tjoflot’ – continue along the winding road and eventually you will come to a dead end where parking is available. A fee is payable for parking.

Our suggestion is to arrive late afternoon or early evening and wild camp close to the car park or, start the climb of Oksen and after approximately 1-mile you will find a plateau with two huts, here is a good place to camp.

With either of the above options, you can start the climb of Oksen early the following morning ahead of other people arriving. We decided to camp near the car park as we wanted to do the whole climb in one go.

This route is very different to the previous day’s expeditions. It feels much more remote, exposed and has many similarities to a classic VK (vertical kilometer) route. You will climb just over 1000m+ in less than 5km to reach the summit.

 We had dry weather but cloud and strong winds. Like the rest of the Hardanger area, once above a certain height, we had snow all the way to the summit making the journey extra special.

The early climbing is through forest as the trail winds up. Once you reach the plateau where the two huts are, the trail is now open and wide. The route is well marked but be careful in snow sections, at times it’s better to deviate on to firm/ harder ground.

The whole route is steep and especially so between 400-600m+ and after 800M+ with the route flattening out towards the summit.

At all times the views are incredible and arguably the views of Hardangerfjord, Sørfjorden, Granvinsfjorden, Eidfjorden and Samlafjorden are the best in the region.

The summit is marked with a stone cairn signifying the altitude of 1241m.

Take time to explore the summit and look at the different views. There is a stunning vista of the suspension bridge too.

At the summit you have options to extend your route. This was our original plan; however, snow and weather conditions were very unpredictable, and we decided (correctly) not to take risks and continue.

Had we had crampons and ice axe; we most certainly would have continued to Ingebjørgfjellet (passing Oksatjorni) which is signposted from the summit (5.4km away). The route is not marked, so, you need map and compass or a GPS. I use the ‘Footpath’ app on my iPhone which works excellently. Maps.me and ViewRanger are others to consider.

The return to the car is via the way you came, unfortunately, due to road access and a lack of public transport there is no other option. As an alternative, it is possible to climb Oksen from Hamre, however, you need to use a different road to access this area. The route up goes via Seljesete and Seljenuten.

The route is considered demanding with a time allowance of 7-hours. As mentioned previously, with good fitness and mountain experience it is perfectly feasible to do the route in under 3-hours even with plenty of photos.

We concluded our trip with a detour travelling back to Oslo. The weather was perfect, and we were not eager to return home when another night camping was possible. We called at Vøringfossen (here) which is an impressive waterfall towering 182m high.

We then continued to Ringericke and climbed up the Mørkonga gully to then camp high next to a lake for a final night.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Never underestimate the mountains and the environment in which you are exploring. June in particular is the start of the hiking season and as such, snow can be a factor on all of the above routes. This adds an additional potential for injury and problems. Particularly as the snow is melting and this can create snow holes, snow bridges and crevices. Do not take any risks and follow established routes and existing footprints.

Make sure you call in the Tourist Office in Kinsarvik and discuss your route options and take advice on current conditions and dangers.

It may be 30deg next to the fjord and glorious sunshine, but at the summit, it can be below zero, blowing a gale and torrential rain. You must take personal responsibility and be prepared for all conditions. At a minimum please take:

  • Suitable pack
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Warm insulated layer
  • Warm trousers
  • Waterproof jacket/ pants
  • Food for the duration of the hike and some contingency
  • 1,5 ltrs of water (which can be replenished on all the routes via streams/ waterfalls)
  • Take water purification tablets as a just in case and consider a water purifier such as MSR TrailShot (here)
  • Map/ Compass
  • Charged mobile phone with a suitable App such as ‘Footpath’ (here)
  • Cash/ Card
  • Garmin InReach or similar

Plan your routes, be realistic on timings and always start early. One of the huge advantages of outdoor activity in Norway is daylight. In June, it is light at 0300 and goes dark after 2200 hrs.

CONCLUSION

Hardanger is a paradise.

Quite simply, if you do the route options above, not only will you see some of the most amazing views ever, you will be rewarded with wonderful challenging days that will provide you with a lifetime of memories.

Weather, as always, is key. We chose our weather window and traveled to the area knowing that we would be rewarded with great conditions.

Of course, if you are making a special trip to the area, you will need to take the weather you are given. Although it is great to have a plan, be prepared for that plan to change based on weather conditions and personal safety. We were desperate to travel to Ingebjørgfjellet after Oksen summit but made a sensible call and retreated.  

The mountains and trails are going nowhere, always remember this!

The routes provided are achievable for all with enough allocated time based on individual experience and fitness.

Due to Covid-19, we experienced considerably quieter trails. On many occasions we were completely alone. Having spoken with locals and others, this is not normal! So, be prepared for more people when you venture to this area, especially Trolltunga.

For us, camping enhances the experience and brings you closer to the nature and environment. However, this is campervan heaven, and should you need a hotel, many are available.

Needless to say, we have picked highlights of the area and there is more to explore, but that will be another article!

This area would be fantastic for a Fastpacking trip, read here about equipment.

Also, here is a guide for Fastpacking in Nepal.

PERSONAL NOTE

I am fortunate to have travelled the world, experienced mountains, summits and trails in iconic locations. Norway may not have any peaks/ summits that can compete with the Alps, Pyrenees or the Himalayas, but what it does have is the most incredible views.

I can honestly say, our mini trip to Hardanger is one of the most rewarding ever! 

Special thanks to Abelone Lyng who was my partner in crime. Abe is the ‘muse’ in all the photos, the girl with a big smile and yes, these trails would have been a little less magic without her to enjoy the journey. She was also the inspiration for the trip and it is thanks to her we visited these amazing places.

View the complete IMAGE GALLERY HERE

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Lanzarote Training Camp 2020 – Day 8 and 9

The penultimate day of our training camp was a cracker and one that many of the camp attendees have called a highlight.

Our first run was between 8-10 miles and included a climb, traverse and descent of the Montana Soo. It’s a great route and one that pushes many out of their comfort zone as the terrain is often steep, technical and challenging with loose stones.

At the summit it provides a great photo opportunity with Club La Santa off to the right in the distance.

For the more experienced runners, they move fast over the terrain embracing the challenge that it brings. Others move slower, more deliberate and thoughtful. We include it in the camp as it closely replicates the feeling and exposure that one can get at the large Djebel at Marathon des Sables.

After the mountain loop, we all returned back to CLS for a 3 hour break before a self-sufficient run. This is our mini multi-day experience that allows all our clients to run to a bivouac location in ability based groups with packs carrying sleeping bag, essential, dehydrated food for dinner and breakfast and a minimum of 1.5ltr of water. Most packs weigh around the 5kg mark.

We transport tents to the bivouac, rationed water and two gas burners to provide hot water for cooking. Once the runners leave CLS, they are self sufficient.

At the bivouac, they put up tents.

As the sun disappears they test out dehydrated food and simulate a bivouac experience. They understand the weather, the need for warmth and then they sleep under the stars.

Our night started perfectly with beautiful clear skies. Amazing star views and warm temperatures. As the night progressed, the wind increased and very much simulated a stormy night in the Sahara. For many, it was a sleepless night with shaking tents and sand being blown everywhere.

An early breakfast call, self-sufficient breakfast, water rations given and they were then off for another 13-miles of soft-sand and dune training before returning back to CLS.

Our final day has one final talk by Elisabet Barnes and Sondre Amdahl and then a group dinner to say farewell…

The next time we will all meet will be in Morocco for the 35th Marathon des Sables.

Our 2021 Training Camp will be announced soon HERE

Huge thanks to our coaches guides

Elisabet Barnes 2x MDS champion

Sondre Amdahl MDS top-10 and Trans Atlas winner

Gemma Game 2x 3rd place at MDS

Jodie Moss 8th at MDS

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THREE SUMMITS EXPEDITION 2020

This time last year I was making final preparations for my Three High Passes‘ trek that included Renjo La, Cho La, Kongma La and the additions of Kala Patthar, Everest Base Camp and Ama Dablam Base Camp.

You can read about the route HERE and view photos HERE.

Having just returned from Nepal, this time visiting Mira Rai in her home village and working on Everest Trail Race (here). I was fueled to put a plan into action that I have contemplated for the last 12-months.

 MERA PEAK, ISLAND PEAK and LOBUCHE EAST 

Three 6000+ summits, in succession in a 16-20 day period.

It seems a logical progression for me, the peaks being considered entry level 6000ers that are graded as trekking peaks’ and not expedition peaks.

To clarify, I have come to higher mountains and challenges as a natural progression. I am a runner who has been fortunate to get high, work in difficult places and organically push my boundaries. Of all the things I have done, my 2018 High Passes Trek was the most rewarding and it has left me wanting more. 

Three Summits Expedition

Its not a project I will take lightly, and I have already started the necessary learning curves to hopefully make the 2020 Three Summits a success. I have three ascents of Toubkal (Morocco) under my belt, two in summer and more importantly, one in winter that will replicate many of the conditions I will encounter on Mera for example. I plan at least two trips (in winter) to Toubkal in early 2020. I have the first planned for January, the second probably in April. I also plan to climb Monte Rosa (4600m) in June and then if all plans fall together, hopefully Mont Blanc (4800m) in August.

In addition to the above I have signed up for ice climbing lessons, a winter skills weekend and a basic abseiling course. I dont want to leave anything to chance and, in the process, I want to really enjoy the learning curve.

What will the Three Summits’ entail?

The loop above shows an approximation of the route and the return leg after Lobuche may change as mentioned below. The total distance will be approximately 120-miles but it is hard to get a fixed figure on this, especially with so much vertical.

Arriving in Lukla, we would take the quiet trekking route to Thuli Kharka that includes crossing three passes: Kalo Himal 1st 4540m, Zatrwa La Pass 4620m and an unnamed pass at 4285m. Thank Tok follows, then Kothe (Namaste Lodge and Lama Lodge) may provide us with a lodge option? Thangnak leads to Khare and then base camp for Mera Peak.

Mera Peak at 6476m is the highest trekking peak in Nepal. A trek that leads though rhododendron forest trails of the Hinku Valley. Once acclimatized we will ascend to a high camp just below Mera La and prepare for an attempt on the central summit of Mera Peak (6461m).

Of all the peaks we will attempt on this expedition, Mera is not technically demanding but climbing at this altitude is physically challenging, we will also need to be attentive to snow conditions and wait for an optimal weather window. From the summit, we will have perfect views of five of the six highest mountains on earth.

From Mera Peak we will descend to Base Camp and then the following day start our trek to Island Peak.

This section of the trek is arguably the most challenging with a crossing of Amphu Labtsa Pass, at an elevation 5845m. It is a glaciated pass covered in Serac cliffs. It is the only way out of the otherwise isolated Honku valley. The base of the valley is at 5,000m and has several glacial lakes including the Panch Pokhri or Five Sacred Lakes. The Amphu Labtsa Pass involves technical mountaineering and is Alpine Graded D (difficult). The ice and rock summit is exposed and the descent to the Imja Valley that will lead to Island Peak requires abseiling following a fixed rope. Arguably, the Amphu Labtsa Pass may be more challenging than the three summits on this expedition?

Island Peak is a classic 6000+ Himalayan Peak and graded PD+/AD which will require our team to use multiple skills that includes crampons, fixed ropes and potentially crossing ladders over crevasses. The attempt for summit will take place early morning (estimated at 2am) and will require many hours in darkness on steep ground covering scree, loose rocks and switchbacks. The final ascent to the summit is steep (40-55 deg) and will require fixed rope work (Ascender and carabiner on a cow tail rope) via mixed terrain: rock, snow and ice.

At the top of the headwall the summit ridge extends a further 250m to the small peak with amazing views looking back towards Ama Dablam. Because Island Peak is close up to the vast and dramatic south side of the Lhotse/Nuptse wall, Everest will not be visible. The climb down is a reverse of the way up and will require some abseiling on the upper sections. It is a single line abseil with no top roping. The lower one gets, the easier it becomes, and we will descend to base camp.

The next section of the trek will go to Chukhung and then Lobuche via one of the threeHigh PassesKongma La.

Once at Lobuche, the final summit of Lobuche East at 6119m waits for us. Considered one of the more challenging trekking peaks in the Everest region our summit attempt will be made from high camp on the south ridge.

Once back at Lobuche, our expedition will then return to Lukla and the route/ schedule here is currently flexible based on time available. We are anticipating and attempting the whole route in a challenging 16-days; however, we will have 20-days available. This will allow us some contingency days for bad weather.

Route options for the return:

1. The most direct route will be to drop down to Dingboche, Pangboche and then take a high pass to Phortse. From here we will pass through the Khumjung Valley, Namche Bazaar and then take the main trekking route back to Lukla.

2. One other option would be to complete the High Passesand from Lobuche take Cho La Pass to Gokyo and then Renjo La Pass to Thame. From here we would go to Namche Bazaar and then follow the main trekking route to Lukla.

Summary 

The above is a challenge and one that is not taken for granted. The mountains are the boss and all I can do is plan accordingly. I have liaised with my contacts in Nepal, namely Pasang Sherpa who is a good friend. He has summited Everest twice, Ama Dablam many times and when it comes to the Himalayas, he is my Mr. Fixer. As such, he will be present on the expedition and have ultimate control of all aspects.

Our team will be small and personally selected with 4 and no more than 6 in the team. In addition, we will have Pasang and porters.

My ethos is to be self-sufficient as much as possible. I want and am happy to support the Nepali community and pay for porters. But I am not happy for me to carry 10kg and a porter carry 40kg. Therefore, I expect each member of the expedition to carry equal weight.

Altitude is a fickle beast and there are no guarantees. Fitness is not an indicator of how well one works above 4/5 and 6000m and in advance we will most definitely have group discussions on plans of how we work this in a real situation.

Our expedition will need individual plans so that we all understand what will happen when plans do not go as expected. For example, in a group of 4-6, it is not unreasonable for 1 person to have an issue on one or all of the ascents. We will need to have safety for 1 person (or more) to turnaround if required, while the others proceed to a summit.

There are little or no lodges between Lukla and Island Peak and what is available, may not be open in late November/ early December. Therefore, we will need to carry tents, cooking supplies and food for this section of the expedition.

Late November and early December will hopefully bring more stable weather, but we do run a risk of increased snowfall. It is also colder. 

We will have specific equipment needs for each of the summit attempts in addition to what we will need for day-to-day trekking:

  • High altitude boots
  • Crampons
  • Helmet
  • Harness
  • Ice Axe
  • Cow Tail
  • Ascender
  • Carabiners

Departure date from Kathmandu to Lukla will be November 23rd (tbc). With the expedition taking 16-20 days. (We need to allow for 20 because we may not be able to summit due to bad weather.) Return to Kathmandu will be scheduled for Dec 12th.

Finally 

This expedition is without doubt a challenge. It is going to push me to some new areas and in the process, I am going to learn not only new skills, but I am going to learn a great deal more about myself.

I plan to document the process in words and images. Lessons learnt, mistakes made and hopefully provide a platform for mutual learning. 

With a New Year looming, I am excited to start it with my most adventurous project yet!

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Running Beyond Book Here

Rab Mountain Marathon 2014

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Over 500 runners assembled in the English Lakes for 2-days of Mountain Marathon action in what turned out to be two great days.

Although the sun only penetrated the thick cloud a couple of times, the weather was dry and as per usual, the Lakes provided a perfect backdrop to two tough days.

RACE IMAGES available HERE

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A score event (long and short), participants competed in solo or teams of two and as one would expect, the mix of ability was wide. One of the appeals of the RMM.

A rolling start on both days, 8:30 to 10:30 on Saturday and 07:00 to 09:00 on Sunday avoided snakes of runners and thus ensured everyone had to hone their ‘nav’ skills in finding the appropriate controls.

One thing that was great to see on both days, was huge smiles and a real enjoyment of the event irrespective of ability or speed.

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Day 1 provided a couple of very obvious controls relatively close to camp 1 to start and then there field of 500 spread over a wide area. The faster runners covering quite some ground to gain maximum points and by contrast, the walkers took a more direct line and less controls to camp 2.

Starting just west of the A6, day 1 went as far north as Mardale Head and Blea Water and west of Stony Cove Pike. In the south, the faster runners could venture below the River Kent.

Stewart Bellamy (300 points) was the stand out solo competitor and Andrew Stirk/ Adam Higgins (290 points) were the leading team of two after day 1 in the long course. Jackie Scarf and Phil Scarf had a 20 point lead in the short score (235 points) and Luke Gordon (210 points) was the leading solo.

©iancorless.com_RabMM14_-2915A strong wind blowing from the south potentially was going to make overnight camp interesting. However, with all runners back the wind suddenly dropped making the evening a calm, still and very warm night.

An early start had participants departing in two start windows, 0700-0800 and 0800-0900. With the exception of just a few, nearly all participants headed south before then heading east and making the way back to day 1 start camp.

A corridor of controls made this section of the course busy with runners coming from all directions as they tried to take accumulate as many points as possible.

Tough terrain and warm temperatures made day 2 all about covering ground fast as controls were much closer together and therefore points were really up for grabs. Steve Bellamy once again lead the way with 240 points with Daniel Gooch and Jon Moulding both raised their individual games with 245 and 240 points respectively. Two man team Andrew Stirk/ Andrew Higgins looked to be moving fast all day but finished 4th with 235 points. However, Stirk/Higgins still held on to 2nd overall behind Steve Bellamy and Daniel Gooch placed 3rd.

Short score competitors had a shake around on day 2 with day 1 leaders, Jackie & Phil Scarf placing 2nd behind Steve Wilson and Peter Stobbs. Patrick Butlin finished 3rd ahead of day 1 2nd place, Luke Gordon. However, the overall results remained unchanged with Team Scarf 1st (425 points), Luke Gordon 2nd (390) and Tim Martland (360) 3rd.

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Shane Ohly as race director and the Ourea Events Team bring slick organisation to difficult terrain and along with the course planning skills of Charlie Sproson, these events are a must do on the calendar. It’s been a busy year for the team, it all started in January with Marmot Dark Mountains. The Rab Mountain Marathon concludes 2014 but already plans are in motion for 2015 and remember, it’s a Dragons Back year! Arguably one of the toughest challenges in the UK

Results are HERE

Ourea events HERE

RACE IMAGES available HERE

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Great Lakeland 3 Day™ – Day 1

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Days on the mountains and fells don’t get any better… May Day bank holiday, 200 competitors embracing a relaxed and casual approach to racing and 3-days on the iconic Lakeland fells and mountains.

 

Shane Ohly, race director for the GL3D ™ provides a selection of courses to suit every runner’s ability or competitive edge – Elite, A, B or the newly introduced C class for walkers. In conjunction with great planning and organization, a friendly atmosphere and believe it or not, good weather, day-1 proved to be an incredible start for the 2014 edition.

In the best traditions of the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon, the competitors were promised a surprise on the first morning. Race Director, Shane Ohly explained, ‘The LAMM has a deserved reputation for surprising competitors on the first day with an unexpected change of venue or logistic and I wanted to embrace this idea for the GL3D™.’

The day kicked off with a steamer cruise across Ullswater from the race HQ at Pooley Bridge to Howtown and then a rolling start as runners ‘dibbed-in’ to commence the day.

Although very few glimpses of sun were sighted, the whole day remained dry and calm with constant cloud. Each and every participant stated, ‘Perfect running conditions.’

Despite the relaxed atmosphere the Great Lakeland 3Day™ remains a formidable challenge with the Elite runners covering 46.2km on day-1, the A class, 40km, B class, 31.3km and the new C course 24.1km.

It was grand tour of some of the best Lakeland ridges, summits and valleys with an optimal altitude gain of 1,183m for the C-class and 2,738m for the Elites. The A and B courses had 2,373 and 1,590m respectively.

A huge slice of cake, unlimited tea or coffee and of course the famous (or infamous) free beer or cider ensured that the aches and pains of a first tough day in the mountains would soon be forgotten.

Results:

Elite – 46.2km

Jim Mallin 5:19:56

Tim Laney 5:57:54

Chris Warner 5:58:12

 

1st lady – Kerstin Rosenqvist 6:44:44

A – 40k

Simon Harper 5:14:42

Jim Trueman 5:49:48

Adrian Chewter 5:50:50

 

1st lady – Sally Ann Spencer 6:27:18

B – 31.3k

Eddy Charlton-Weedy 3:31:20

Alexander Beaven 4:04:23

David Neill 4:21:05

 

1st lady – Christine Waller 4:44:49

C – 24.1k

Stephen Burt 4:03:42

Jaqueline Cooper 5:07:03

Martin & Nicola Kirkman 5:39:20

Ourea Events HERE

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Great Lakeland 3 Day™ HERE

all images ©iancorless.com – all rights reserved

Bungle in the Jungle – A guide

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No matter how experienced, no matter how long you have been running, you can always learn something…. My recent trip to Costa Rica and The Coastal Challenge which took place in a rainforest made me realize that I knew very little about running in heat with high humidity, running in a rain forest and also running on consecutive days in this environment.

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I am quite meticulous in my planning. I like to tick boxes, cross ‘to do’s’ off a list and feel content that when I am at an airport travelling to a race that I feel that I have done everything I possibly can to get the best out of myself and the race when I arrive at my destination.

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Costa Rica was nothing like this….

I only found out I was going about four weeks before, so, that 12-20 week training plan that I would have created to then taper into an event didn’t exist. I was realistically just a week or two weeks away from the taper. When you add to this that since January 2012 I hadn’t been training due to knee issues. Of course I had been ‘working out’ but I hadn’t been training. Nothing specific. Training had consisted of runs every other day with the longest being at 2hrs 15m, other days had been cross training, plenty of time on the stairmaster and stretching and core.

My brief was not to race at The Coastal Challenge. This was a good thing, however, I was working as a journalist and my need to document, photograph and experience the course would mean getting involved.

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My plan was simple. Start the day on the course at a great advantage point, photograph the front runners and then run to the end capturing more images, experience the terrain and then write up and download photos at the end of the day. Simple!

In addition to running we would be staying in a different campsite each day. Luggage and tents would be transferred ahead and food was provided.

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So what did I learn?

Pacing & Hydration: Costa Rica is hot and humid. Oh yes, hot and humid. Coming from a UK winter the shock is pretty drastic. But I found it manageable. You certainly need to adjust many things and you need to make those adjustments on day one. In simple terms you need to ‘slow down’ and ‘hydrate’ more. Within 10-15 minutes of exercise your body is soaked and your clothing is completely wet.

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It stays that way all day so get used to it. Sweat rates vary but in the excessive humidity and adding exercise to this it is fair to assume that 750ml + will be required per hour. Replacing electrolytes will also be important so look into what works for you. Runners used a combination of ‘adding’ electrolyte to water or taking salt tabs. Day one of our race started with a 10k road section, in retrospect this was designed to ease the runners into the terrain and heat/humidity, however, I think it actually allowed to many fresh runners to run too quick right from the gun.

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By the time they reached CP1 and the start of the jungle many were already in trouble… they didn’t know it at that point but they certainly knew it in the final 25% of the day. By pushing too hard at the beginning of the day they couldn’t then pull back the deficits in the latter stages  and suffered. By the end of day one, the race had several drops and a far too large group suffering from dehydration.

Feet: Oh boy. Multi stage races are renowned for damaging feet but really this shouldn’t happen. If you look after your feet, have the correct socks and the correct shoes it should all be straightforward. Of course unexpected things can happen such as a little rubbing and the odd blister BUT at TCC I saw people with literally no skin left on bruised and damaged feet. I am actually amazed that some of these runners managed to finish the race. The rainforest will guarantee several things:

  • Your feet will be hot
  • Your feet will be wet regularly
  • Your feet will be twisted and turned
  • Over the six days you will run/walk over 200k

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With the above in mind you need to plan accordingly. This race is not self sufficient so this is a big advantage. Why? Well for a start you can bring several run shoes. I took the two ‘styles’ of shoe, Salomon Speedcross 3 and TNF Hayasa,

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I had two pairs of each. One my correct size and the other pair a ½ size larger (just in case). A larger shoe will allow some room should my feet expand. The two styles of shoe also allowed me options in regard to ‘grip’. The Speedcross is far more aggressive than the Hayasa. Certainly something with an aggressive tread suited the environment.

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Socks, like shoes are personal but I am a firm believer in Injinji socks. Each toe is in its own ‘little pocket’. This for me reduces the possibility of problems or issues and over the 6 days of the race I never got one blister! The race had a foot doctor. Without him some runners would have been out of the race. If you have this option, take advantage.

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In training understand what you will be doing at your race. Practice walking, running, climbing, descending and run with wet feet. Find out what does and doesn’t work. Get the mistakes out of the way before you start the race.

I did not tape my feet prior to running and I added no Vaseline. After each day the first thing I did was to remove socks and shoes, clean them and the wear flip flops to allow them to breath.

*note – many of the runners who had problems had worn shoes too big. They had expected feet to expand but on day one and day two, the ‘larger’ shoes had allowed the foot to move within the shoe and consequently the foot had blistered. I am a firm believer that the shoe should ‘fit’. Excessive movement is a recipe for disaster.

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Clothing:  Six days racing means six sets of kit. As far as I was concerned. It’s a simple strategy. You run in one set, get showered and cleaned up, put another set on to relax post run and then you use that kit the next day. I was fortunate that The North Face did provide me with some clothing but not six days worth.

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I added my existing TNF stock to the pile. Clothing is personal but the key elements for the jungle are comfort and the ability to wick sweat. I wore T-shirts instead of vests to cover my shoulders (always vulnerable) and I wore loose baggy shorts. It’s not rocket science but shirts with a mesh back certainly help with breathability, especially if using a pack. Race winner, Dave James wore no top! I don’t recommend this… it works for him but his skin looked well adjusted to the sun and I am sure he applied protection too.

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Dave also wasn’t using a pack, he used hand bottles only. Ladies have a multitude of kit options available to them, ‘looks’ can be far more important to some than functionality. However, simple functionality works best (in my opinion). Some ladies wore ‘strappy’ tops that offered minimal coverage on the shoulders and after 5+ hours on the trails the inevitable would happen… very unusual tan lines and some sunburn.

 

TNF Mica 1 Tent

TNF Mica 1 Tent

Equipment: This race was supported with feed stations. We had no ‘essential’ kit needs other than carrying adequate liquid supplies. Dave James was the only person in the race who used just hand bottles. Everyone else used a pack of some description. In my opinion, some used packs that were way too big and heavy. I am not sure what some people were carrying but the heat, humidity and long days on the trail should mean ‘minimal’ is a priority. Bladders or bottles? I have to say I am a bottle fan. Bladders are just too awkward.

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I used the TNF Enduro 13 pack with two bottles that sit on the waist. In the pack I was carrying two cameras inside and one camera which I added to the waist belt. However, this pack can also take a bladder too. So, if required I could have carried 3 liters. Had I been ‘racing’ I most certainly would have done this on the two long stages as feed stations were wider apart. Always best to stick to just water in a bladder to avoid problems with taste and bacteria. In regard to ‘essential’ kit I had a whistle, first aid kit, some food, purification tablets, phone, cash, small pocketknife and additional sun cream. With regular feed stations and such a hot climate it really wasn’t necessary to carry anything else.

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Tips on the trail: Run in the shade whenever you can. I found that as the day got hotter it was effective to run all shaded sections and then reduce pace or power walk in the open sun sections to regulate temperature.

On hills I power walked as fast as I could. On some sections of the course, depending on your run style and ability, ‘poles’ may well have been useful.

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Descents on the whole were easy, however, one stage in particular was brutal. It’s always a good idea to practice going down hill. Poles again may have been useful BUT vegetation can be very thick and poles would have got caught and may very well have been an additional hazard. Remember that you want to reduce fatigue and impact as much as possible. This is not a one-day race but a six-day race. Short steps reduce the impact.

Utilize all water on the course! Any chance you get, submerge yourself in water crossings, wet your head, wet your neck and take a minute to let your core temperature drop before moving on. The route has plenty of opportunities for this, it’s crazy not to take advantage of it. I

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f you find ‘flowing’ water that is not near farmland then use it to drink. Many runners did this and as far as I know, nobody had issues. I carry ‘purification tablets’ just in case. Better safe than sorry.

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Feed stations are important. Always refill your bottles and take on energy. If you are struggling take some time out. Five minutes in the shade can make a world of difference.

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Depending on your ability, ‘buddying up’ is a great idea. If your plan is to maximize the experience and not race then buddy running can make the experience far more rewarding and potentially less stressful. The course was exceptionally well marked but you could go off course and many did. A buddy is a nice security blanket. In actual fact, 2nd and 3rd placed ladies in the 2013 edition buddied for the last two stages.

You are in a jungle so wildlife is all around you. You hear it all the time but the reality is that you see very little. All wildlife is far more scared of us than we are of them. Main issues may come from snakes or spiders. In thick vegetation its wise to look at foot and hand placement just to make sure!

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Calf guards (or compression) on one or two stages would have been good. I personally prefer not to have additional skin coverage so that I can keep cool, however, one stage in particular had undergrowth that was well above knee height and it did cut, graze and irritate my legs.

Camp life: Camp was a great place. You had very little to worry about as food and drinks are provided. It becomes a social mecca in the sun. Sites were strategically placed next to the sea or a river so you could swim or cool down that way. All sites had toilet and shower facilities (some better than others). Important factors were:

  • Tent/ Hammock
  • Clothes
  • Kit

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Tents that pitch ‘inner only’ are essential. It is so hot you need nothing else. Of course, it is a rainforest so make sure you bring the flysheet just in case. Other than a few short showers we had no rain (unusual apparently). I use a small one man tent, the TNF Mica 1 and it was perfect. I had an sleeping matt and inflatable pillow. I didn’t use a sleeping bag but I did take a ‘sleeping bag liner’ for any potentially cold or chilly nights. I slept in my next day run kit.

Your clothes and kit are outside all night, so, the organization recommend  ‘spacepackers’ they are waterproof containers that hold all your kit. They are a good idea but hopeless for travel. One or two people had large ‘Stanley’ toolboxes that had wheels and a pull handle; much better idea.

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I used a TNF ‘Basecamp’ bag which was waterproof and easy to transport. I also had a TNF waterproof rucksack. It was essential. In this I stored my computer, cameras, cables, phone, microphone, etc, etc. I can’t recommend this pack enough.

Waterproof Pack

Waterproof Pack

I had a full medical kit that included everything that I would need. It had all sorts of medication, scissors, tapes, creams, antiseptics etc to cover pretty much all eventualities. The race does have a medical team and foot doc but you should be responsible for all the essentials.

I carried very little additional clothing. I had lightweight long travel pants, travel shorts, hat with neck cover and some lightweight shirts all supplied by Arc’teryx. Perfect!

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I had one lightweight showerproof/ windproof jacket should it be required. I didn’t need it at any point during or after the racing but San Jose before and after the race was much cooler. It came in handy then.

Flip flops or similar are essential!

I had one towel, a travel towel that you can get from any ‘outdoor’ store. Small pack size and dries quickly.

RECOVERY: Important. After each stage, recover. Drink, eat, look after your feet and then get some time with your legs in cool water and elevate. Find some shade and relax. Get a massage if it’s a possibility. At the TCC they had a team of masseurs.

Extras: Don’t get too involved in the racing. The course (and others) has so much to see and experience that you don’t want to get to the end and it be a blur. I feel very fortunate that I ran with cameras and had a job to do. I had to stop, look around, decide on photo opportunities and often wait. I really feel as though I experienced the rainforest. I will never forget sitting in the middle of a river at 0600 one morning waiting for the runners to run towards me. I saw birds, snakes, monkeys and I heard so much more… special moments that all added to the experience.

Stage racing is all about bonding and making friends. I am pretty sure that every runner left with so many more new friends. Go into these experiences with open arms and you will leave with them full.

Understand that before you start you will need to dig deep. This may be a holiday but it is no picnic. The Coastal Challenge is a tough course. The dnf’s and drop downs to the shorter Adventure category confirm this. But it is achievable for everyone. If you get day one and day two right, three, four, five and six fall into place. It’s not meant to be easy. If you understand that, the outcome will be a positive one.

Essential Kit:

  • Run shoes 2 pairs
  • Run kit for six days – tops, shorst and socks (I recommend 6 sets)
  • Rucksack that can hold 2-3 litres – bottles/ bladder or both
  • Medical supplies
  • Food for on the trail
  • Whistle
  • Sun Cream
  • Electrolytes
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Travel Towel
  • Tent that pitches inner only
  • Waterproof bag or box for all kit
  • Additional waterproof bag for electronics
  • Phone
  • Pocket Knife
  • Money
  • Credit Card

Optional Kit:

  • Run Poles
  • Gaiters
  • Sleeping bag
  • Music (ipod or similar)

Caldera de Taburiente – La Palma

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An easy day should surely be followed with a longer day right? Good! Niandi and myself did follow the ‘Los Llanos‘ experience with a wonderful 7 hours on the trails of the LP13 in the National Park of the Caldera de Taburiente. What a day!

I had read about the PRLP13 being a super hard hike (Here) and how we could take a Taxi to Los Brecitos…. nonsense! If you are going to do it, then do it! That’s all part of the fun.

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We started the trail at 0900 in the valley and had decided on an anti-clockwise direction going through the Barranco de las Angustias ravine which is all about boulder and rock hopping, crossing the river multiple times and some scrambling. It’s mostly slow going and if you are not technically proficient you do need to take care. (NOTE: If you plan to do this you must check that no heavy rain has happened in the previous 24/48 hours or more importantly that any is due for your own excursion. The water level rises very quickly).

Niandi is not the best at this really technical stuff but she embraced it, smiled and bounced from rock to rock when she could. Hats off to her… she very rarely says ‘I can’t’. She takes a breath and gets on with it; respect!

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As we have grown to accept with La Palma the terrain changes constantly. Running through the ravine we would then climb and drop back down. Sometime we could run, others we would scramble. I loved it. It would make a great race route but only for the proficient… moving over this terrain at any speed requires real skill.

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Finally arriving at the end of the ravine a dam was in front of us. The water here changed colour to incredible oranges from iron discolouration. We moved to the left and moved onwards and upwards finally joining incredible single track. We had gone from rocky ravines to pine forests.

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The Roque de Idafe like some huge rock finger pointing to the sky in front of us. We now started to climb up and up. Although this was running terrain the gradient means sometimes you jog, sometimes you hike, No worries. All part of the fun.

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Niandi loved this section of the LP13. It was beautiful and inspirational. The sune had now moved up high into the sky and warmed our backs. We finally arrived at our turning point at the end of the valley. Here is a Tourist information centre and campsite. From here you can go on several different routes. Some are out and backs, others circular routes.

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We had a picnic lunch and then followed the signs to Los Brecitos. We now had the opportunity to pretty much run and power hike this whole section. Narrow single track made soft and bouncy by fallen pine needles… a carpet like feel under our feet. Niandi smiled and bounced her way down the trail. Such a contrast to the way out down the ravine. It is what makes running here in La Palma so special.

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From Los Brecitos we had a small section of road and then we dropped back down the trail to our start point in the valley.

You don’t measure these runs via distance. It means nothing. To be honest we are not even running much of the time. It’s about time on feet and experiences and today was one of those days on the trail that you don’t forget.

You can see a selection of images HERE

In the evening we went and had Cerveza, Pizza and then sat outside at Cafe Eden being entertained by a local band playing Dire Straits, The Rolling Stones and so on… we both could get used to this!